NEW DELHI— A chemist in Sriganganagar Rajasthan, a defunct wine business in Jamtara Jharkhand, a food-processing firm in Noida Uttar Pradesh - these were just some of the companies to have won a controversial sand-mining auction held by the Nitish Kumar-led government in Bihar’s Banka district in December 2019. More on them later in this report.
Now, on October 14 this year, the National Green Tribunal declared the auction as “void and a nullity”, or in other words — illegal.
“The action of the State is apparently unguided, whimsical and arbitrary,” said the tribunal’s 89 page order which goes on to list a litany of violations of environmental norms by the Bihar state government under the Janata Dal (United) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition.
The violations in Banka district offer an insight into the lawlessness in the sand mining sector — an industry long-believed to be controlled by powerful, politically connected vested interests.
A sample: the government auctioned off the sand mines without first preparing a district survey report — as required by law. These reports are drafted, the green tribunal explained, not only for “exploitation of a mineral solely with the economic objective but also to ensure sustainable mining so that natural resources can be utilised in an environment friendly manner”. But this was not visible in the case of the Banka district’s electronic auction. In that instance, according to the green tribunal, the revenue of the state was the “sole criteria”.
Worse, the government placed no limits on how much sand the firms could mine, making a mockery of the notion of sustainable mining. “No quantum of the mineable mineral has been prescribed thereby providing unlimited access for mining,” the NGT order says.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has spent significant political capital on a so-called ‘crackdown’ against illegal sand mining in the state since 2017 when he joined hands with the BJP to...